Monday, January 5, 2009

Angels by Dennis Johnson

Today's meal is Angels, Denis Johnson's first novel. It's easy to see his skill as a writer even in this first go round (although I think that he had a successful career in journalism before writing Angels), a skill that has recently won him the National Book Award for Tree of Smoke.

I read this book slowly, a bit each day, as these souls did not digest quickly and easily. I devoured these souls only by unhinging my jaws and working slowly, much as a large snake would while ingesting a small lamb. But as difficult as it was (the difficulty arising from the tortured, messy souls in this novel, not from the writing style), in the end Angels turned out to be a particularly filling repast.

We start off on a cross country bus where we meet the two main characters, Jamie Mays and Bill Houston. Jamie is, poor thing, en route from Who Really Cares to It Doesn't Really Matter. Bill Houston is just en route. She's escaping a disappointing marriage; he is just escaping. Ex-Navyman and ex-con, Bill Houston has no certain destination in life and ends up exactly where fate decrees that he should. Jamie too just drifts into her fate although not with as much acceptance as Bill Houston. I have a very clear idea in my head of these two. People like us see people like them everywhere; Denis Johnson trusts that we do and doesn't go overboard trying to explain them. It's subtle but very clear. Jamie - skanky, stupid and frail, with hair that is too long, too thin, too flat and a voice that is too shrill, too dull, too desperate. Bill Houston - tough, reckless, irresponsible in a little boy way. He's half empty, fueled by alcohol and carrying a lit match. Almost the brains of his own life...but almost doesn't count on cross country buses and in bank robberies. The most generous thing that I can say about these two are they are both Losers. I don't mean "loser" as we generally use the term, creating the letter L with forefinger and thumb. I mean that every roll of life's dice is a losing one for these two.

You've already jumped ahead to the fact that they hook up (it took even less time for Jamie to do so.) They do and begin a self indulgent spree of drifting and drinking, hauling Jamie's two children along with them. Jamie would surely slash my tires for saying so, but she is a shit mother. She and Bill Houston leave the kids with any friendly old lady or motel maid as they scurry off into the night to drink a round or seven and argue about money. This lasts about as long as it does for losers (the thumb and forefinger kind) and they soon part ways.

Distasteful enough, I say. I'd like a sip of water and perhaps a little mint to make it all palatable but I get the sense that Denis Johnson will not provide such gentile fare.

Second course finds Jamie hunting for Bill Houston because she has a few more things that she wants to drunkenly shriek at him. She once again shows us what she's made of by going home with a man she meets at a bus station (what I've learned so far in 2009 - travel is bad news), a man who claims that he knows Bill Houston. This bad decision ends her up drugged, raped, sodomized and nearly killed by this lowlife and his brother-in-law, while his sister watches the two kids in an upstairs apartment. By the time Bill (Houston, by the way) turns up in her life again, she's bat shit crazy as well.

Here we have a sample of her bat shit thoughts:

Beneath her the tiles rippled and breathed. The pulpy surfaces of the walls ripened uncontrollably under her observation, inhaling endlessly like lungs preparing to blast her face with a calling or a message. Stripes and pyramids fell across the air in nearly comprehensible organization, writing that changed just before she understood it, and the room itself became a vast insinuation, swollen with filthy significance. She wanted to catch her breath and wail, but realized that her own lungs were already full. When she exhaled, the room seem relieved of its tension momentarily: she was crushed to remember that this very same action of ballooning and diminishing had been linked to all her other breaths. This terrible, terrible thing that was happening was her breathing.

These were my least favorite passages of the book. It may be brilliant writing (I'm not saying that it is because, frankly, I was lost - and angry about it) but I couldn't figure it out at all and therefore didn't give a crap (I guess that makes it not so brilliant.) There was certainly other examples of what I would consider brilliant writing; well, really brilliant insight into the human psyche. One of my favorite lines was "the weightlessness of fear replaced the weight of anger." I'd never thought about it before I read that line, but fear is a weightless feeling and anger is so very heavy. That's what brilliant writing does, gives voice to feelings we've had but never noticed.

My absolute favorite moment of the novel was after Jamie ends up in a loony bin. Her children are bundled off to the airport by Bill Houston's mom and sisters-in-law, on their way back to their daddy. The oldest, Miranda who is maybe five, has to use the bathroom.

Jeanine took her into the bathroom just this side of the security area. While she waited for Miranda, she looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was starting to grow long again, and she'd just had it permed. Her dress was white on white. She wore red lipstick. Knowing a killer had taught her that she must live.

"Stevie?" Miranda called, her voice echoing out of the stall.

"I'm not Stevie, honey. I'm Jeanine."

"Oh," Miranda said. Then she said, "Jeanine?"

"What is it?"

"Um..." The moment seemed to take place under water. "I'm almost done, Jeanine."

"Good," Jeanine said.

Oftentimes there is one scene, sometimes just a paragraph, that hits home and seems to reflect all the other action of the plot and sums up the whole emotional kick of the theme of a story. This is it for Angels. It echoes the whole sense of loss and uncertainty that Jamie and Bill have been so disastrously dealing with throughout the novel. At an age where Miranda should be bathing in stability and security she is in a airport restroom constantly checking out who is still there for her. We know from this one scene that she'll spend the rest of her life testing her place in society, the durability of her friendships and the fidelity of her loved ones. She'll never be sure of anything nor be able to trust anyone. In short, she is carrying on the tradition of loss. She too will be a loser. The scene still gives me chills and that's good writing.
I would suggest following the reading of Angels with the watching of "We're No Angels" starring Humphrey Bogart. That should help remove the sour cigarette/alcohol/vomit taste remaining in your mind.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Dear American Airlines by Jonathan Miles

I am not Beepy. Beepy's bloated body washed ashore a few days ago. She's been dead a few weeks, killed, I think, by the inattention of an STD.

I am not Beepy. Where Beepy was gentle, I am rough and cruel. Where Beepy was passive, I am tense and fast. Where Beepy was forgiving, I am hard and angry.

I am not Beepy; I am F-Stop. F-Stop as in "Will you stop it? Can't you just stop it? Why won't you FUCKING STOP?" See? F-Stop. I am also known as The Cleaver, The Clatterer of Bones, Breaker of Spirit, Destroyer of Dreams. But I prefer to be known as The Devourer. F-Stop, the Devourer of Souls to be precise.

The first soul that I bring to you, devoured by my Wrath, is that of Benjamin R. Ford, known to most as Bennie. I came across Bennie in the airport lounge of Jonathan Miles' Dear American Airlines. At first glance, he was angry too. Angry and funny and he appealed to me immediately. On his way from New York to LA to attend his daughter's wedding, Bennie finds himself indefinitely laid over at Chicago's O'Hare Airport waiting for the weather to clear. Bennie's take on the weather differs slightly from that of American Airlines.

Dear American Airlines, since when did you start canceling flights in midair?...We circled O'Hare for an hour before the pilot informed us he was landing in Peoria. Peoria! In my youth I thought Peoria was a fictional place that Sherwood Anderson and Sinclair Lewis had cooked up one night at the tail end of a gin bender. But no, it exists. We sat on the runway for more than an hour before a handsome pilot with exquisitely parted hair emerged to tell us that the flight was "officially canceled." Wha? But he offered us all a bus ride to O'Hare "on the house," kind soul that he was, the revealing of which I hope won't endanger his job. Not that I'd worry too much about him: Go ahead and can him, he has a guaranteed second career as a JCPenney catalog model. The (alleged) cause for
this fuckedupedness was (allegedly) foul weather blowing off Lake Michigan but after eight-plus hours in Chicago I can tell you, without a pinch of hesitation, that the weather here is flat-out delightful and you're more than welcome to visit for a round of golf to so verify. Pack some sunscreen.

No wonder Bennie's angry. His only daughter is getting married, he has promised to be there and life has thrown him a sinking curveball full of poop. Now you, who are not cruel and heartless with a sizzling hatred of all mankind, would take this moment to assure Bennie that a daughter's love will forgive what is surely not his fault. Grow a pair and see what's coming next! Bennie has not been the doting husband and attentive father that a kinder fate would have made him. Since his daughter's infancy, he has see her exactly once. Bennie's ex, Stella, took off seeking sunnier pastures and non-alcoholic sheep, as it were. This provokes, for me, the biggest laugh of the book. Bennie, locked out, stands under his wife's window and shouts her name.

Almost instantly, however, I went silent-struck mute by the interior echo. "Oh shit," I finally said aloud. Had Stella been named anything else, and/or had we lived in any other city besides New Orleans, my desperate call would have been just my desperate call. In that alternate universe the neighbors might have peeked from behind the curtains but they wouldn't have laughed or, worse, joined in. But you simply cannot shout the name Stella while standing under a window in New Orleans and hope for anything like an authentic or even mildly earnest moment.

As Bennie's letter of complaint turns into a confessional listing of Bennie's worldly woes, the story loses much of its humor and gains plenty of pathos. If Bennie hadn't already admitted to his booze-addled past, we'd have to imagine that there was one based on what we learn about his childhood. Who among us wouldn't down a gallon or two every night if faced with the uncertainty of Bennie's youth. Am I sounding a bit understanding, a bit soft, a bit "I feel your pain," a bit Beepy? Because I'm not and I don't. Bennie deserves what he gets; I'm just saying that I know why he gets it.

You see, Bennie's mom is nuts. At least she was before a stroke rendered her sane (can that really happen? I have a few coworkers...) I don't think that Jonathan Miles made an in depth study of psychology while writing this book (Bennie either, for that matter.) Mrs. Ford is said to have suffered from schizophrenia but clearly she was manic-depressive in her pre-stroke years. I saw it on an episode of Oprah. It's so trendy! (Sorry to offend anyone who is dealing with this heartbreakin - wait, I am not Beepy. I am F-Stop the Offender, so stet. Suck it up.) Besides all the knowledge I gained from Oprah, Beepy told me that some of her friends are bi-polar (although she herself preferred the warmer waters of the Gulf Coast. Ba-rum-bum.)

Anyway, Bennie the Youth had to deal with his bipolar mom and passive Polish immigrant father. In my favorite passage of the novel, Bennie's dad drives from New Orleans to Nevada in order to rescue his son and wife, who has decided one day to live the life of Georgia O'Keefe. Of course it didn't go so well (it never does when your sanity is regularly upended.)

She would flee, and my father would inevitably fetch her home. Maybe that was always the point: marriage as an awful game of hide-and-go-seek. Maybe my mother never expected, or even intended, to actually escape. After all she was terrible about not finishing her paintings and her suicide attempts were almost
always dramatic half-measures. Standing beside the car in that hot cloud of road dust and tailpipe vapors, her hair tossed by the wind, she smiled at my father and said to him, "I don't know why you always do this."
"I did not know," he replied, with neither tenderness nor bitterness, "that I had choice."

I became very fond of his dad at this point. Such responsible fatalism is hard for a bitter heart like mine to resist. It was a shame to devour his soul but even the virtuous must face the gaping maw of destruction. Better luck next time, Henry Ford (born Henryk Gniech); may you meet a kinder fate in some other novel.

You get the picture by now. Benjamin Ford has a lot to complain about and what starts out as a letter demanding a refund of his $392.68 ticket, turns into a monologue of soul searching. I wasn't expecting it and maybe wouldn't have started reading if I had, but Bennie's soul was tasty and went down smooth. I'll give it @@@.

Oh yeah. Dear Newbury Street, Scrape your fucking sidewalks when it snows!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

F-Stop's Rating System

@@@@@ - Fully sated and ready to hibernate.
@@@@ - Enough room left for coffee and cheesecake.
@@@! - Even tastier treat.
@@@ - Tasty treat.
@@ - Not much to that. Let's get takeout on the way home.
@ - Call the Health Department. I think there was a Band-Aid in the soup!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Thank Heavens I Live in a Land of Pixies and Unicorns

A few months ago I wrote about Natsuo Kirino's Grotesque, which I found disturbing and yet compelling. As promised then, I've had my eye out for the release of her new book, which finally happened July 15th. The book is called Real World and, not surprisingly, I found it disturbing and compelling. My only complaint with it is that it isn't long enough, only 207 pages. The last time that I read a book so slim, I was the age of the characters in this book.

There are five teenagers at the center of this novel, four female friends and the boy next door who ruins their lives. Worm, the boy next door, is a dark, little, twisted creature that I never really got a good grasp on. I'm not sure if he's psychotic or just pressed too hard against the wall of growing up, but it's clear that he's a sociopath. He begins the story by killing his mother with a baseball bat, very calmly leaving his house and heading off for a life on the run. Along the way, he steals his neighbor's bike and cellphone.

When Toshi, Worm's neighbor, hears about the crime, she realizes that she has key information, having witnessed the noise made by the murder and Worm's calm departure from the house. However, she decides to lie to the police and her family and continues to protect him throughout the novel. It's not as if they are friends; she barely knows him and doesn't like what she does know but cheers for his escape due to her own psychological demons.

All the teens in this book are hanging on to society's edges with one tiny claw. There's Yanzu who receives the first call from Worm, using Toshi's stolen cellphone. Yanzu is struggling to find a comfortable place uniting her family life and school friends with her underground life as a lesbian. She is the first to help Worm by providing him with a new cellphone and bike and returning the stolen ones.

Kirinin has problems with her sexuality as well. By day, a happy go lucky, innocent schoolgirl but every night she goes to Seedyville and has as much casual sex and she can before morning. She becomes fascinated with the idea of the rebel Worm and runs off to join him. She wants a new life and he seems the perfect answer. Unfortunately, he is not what she thought and things end badly.

Our best hope for a normal view of teenage Japan seems to be Terauchi. She is bright, studious, seemingly well grounded and sane. She rejects Worm's attempts to draw her into his drama - outright rejection at first, later playing coy to keep things under control once Kirinin joins him. But her life is just as angsty as the next kid's. She is contemptuous of her schoolwork and her family has created a situation for her that is intolerable. Her calm exterior just covers the lack of life that lies within.

Things come to a head and our teens start falling like dominoes. Kirino's point is that the culture around teens is very unhealthy and it's amazing any of them make it out unscathed. Toshi rants against commercialism. Worm seems to be burdened and yet under the spell of Japan's military history. Terauchi's childhood innocence has been destroyed by a social structure that demands scholastic excellence. Kirinin's problems clearly come from all the sexual crosscurrents that buffet her (and us) daily.

Natsuo Kirino's books get classified as Mystery in bookstores but I'm not so sure that they should. The mystery at the heart of her novels is not "Who did the crime and will he/she be caught?" It is the mystery of what goes on inside us that makes us act as we do and that's what I love about her books, the inner darkness of the human mind.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Thoroughly Modern Beepy

The most astute of you may have noticed that I haven't been around for awhile. Let me explain that. About two months ago I was resting on my rock, dreaming of all the books that Cap'n Ahab would be bring me, when I was approached by the demon Ursula. The deal was made in minutes and it has taken me all this time to wrestle my voice back from her. Let that be a warning to all of us.

So now to business. Back in January I offered a free meal to anyone who bet against me reading two books per week this year. Silly readers, you'd all be sated and sighing if you'd taken me up on my bet. But July is the halfway point of the year and it seems to me a good point to cut my losses and start again. There will be no free meals this time unless someone decides to feed me.
Ursula has taught me to be relentless.

My "New Year" begins with a memoir by Josh Kilmer-Purcell called I Am Not Myself These Days. Mr. Kilmer-Purcell lived a double-careered life in New York City. By day he was a hungover adman, by night she was a drunken drag queen named Aqua. I got a kick out of both lives.

Now a few of you might be wondering why I would waste my time on fluffy memoirs, but I think that if you really give it some thought, you'll realize that I've been attempting to live as a woman for years. If you add to that the fact that both JK-P and I enjoy waking up with strange men, I think that it will all become clear to you.

Anyway, this photo is of Aquadisiac. If you look very carefully you will notice that her breasts are clear little bowls containing goldfish. Living goldfish! Why didn't I think of that? Now we all understand why there is a goldfish on the cover of the book.

The book covers the period of a few months (about eight or nine if I remember correctly) that JK-P shared his life with a male prostitute whom he calls Jack. Jack meets a drunken Aqua one night and takes her home. Aqua meets Jack the next day when Jack returns her clothes to a hungover Josh at his ad agency. It's a storybook romance that should be read to all little girls before they go to sleep at night.

Soon the two are in love and moving in together. Jack is a very successful male prostitute, seeming to deal mostly in S&M; he wears his beeper at all times and occasionally brings clients to the apartment for the weekend. Otherwise, he seems to be the perfect boyfriend - gentle, loving, supportive, freely doling out gifts and love notes. He worries about Josh's drinking, orders in breakfast for two every morning and even refuses to have sex with Josh until the relationship is ready. Josh continues on with his day job and Aqua's night life and wonders how he got so lucky. If it weren't for the prologue which has Jack standing over a sleeping JK-P with a knife, I'd nominate this for Romance of the Year.

Yes, you read it right, "with a knife", a giant machete-like knife by the way. Somewhere down the line, Jack has become addicted to crack (a whore addicted to crack - Stop the Presses) and is now a violent maniac. I'm being a bit sassy here; his descent isn't as sudden as I make it out to be. There are a lot of broken promises, false steps and ruined fresh starts (if you're thinking it's kinda like my blog, shaddup!) and eventually Jack and Josh split. Josh has moved on to a stable relationship, a good job and life as a full time man. Jack? Who knows but we wish him well.

If you can't tell by what I've written so far, this book entertained the hell out of me. It was a peek inside a world I'll never get to see. There was, for example, an illuminating description of the process of becoming a woman (a hint - it involves a lot of shaving), smoking crack, dealing with drunken men wanting to touch your - er - goldfish, etc. I also learned a bit about the pain there is involved in being a drag queen and I'm not just talking the tucking away of inconvenient bits and pieces or winching a corset up to rib crushing tightness. Our no-holds barred author describes a gruesome drag act in which a 300lb. queen shoots M&M's out her ass. That's real pain. (If, by the way, that's the scene that entices you to read I Am Not Myself These Days, I don't want to know about it, okay? We really don't know each other well enough.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Look What the Tide Washed In

Okay, folks, it's been a long, long time. I hope that I haven't lost you all during the time that I've been saving up enough money to buy another book. (Since Cap'n Ahab isn't interested in my wo-manatee's curves, I have to pay his fee in cold, hard cash) This week he swung by and dropped off two books The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman and The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger.

The Star Machine is about Hollywood and the Studio System of the 30's and 40's. It very clearly explains how the major studios created stars like Lana Turner, Tyrone Power and Errol Flynn. It did seriously work like a machine. A young wanna-be was signed to a seven year contract by the studio and for those seven years, he or she had no autonomy. Hair color, style of dress, cosmetic surgery, etc were all under the control of the studio bosses. Interview answers were scripted. Movie roles were, of course, chosen by the studio. After being signed, the actor was given a small role in one or two films to test their audience appeal. Then, if the audience noticed the player, there would be a starring role. If the young star balked at any of this, they were put on suspension without pay until they agreed. Since they were bound to that studio and couldn't make movies elsewhere, they were screwed unless they did exactly as the studio said.

Ms. Basinger splits her book into several different sections, each dealing with a different star and a problem they had with the studio system. Errol Flynn, for example, was not happy with his endless swashbuckling, tight-wearing roles. He was from an acting family, had talent and wanted to be an "actor". Plus he had a wild personal life that the studio found hard to keep under wraps. Lana Turner had a similar problem. Deanna Durbin was fed endless kid roles well after she was grown and married. Some stars were destroyed by the Machine, but some (Loretta Young, Irene Dunne)managed to escape the system and still have careers. Given the way stars arise today, reading about Hollywood of this era is like reading about another planet.

The best part of the book, for me, is reading about all the movies I've never watched. I read about Tyrone Power and Netflix "Witness for the Prosecution". I read about Lana Turner and Netflix "The Bad and the Beautiful." This and the tasty tidbits of Hollywood gossip, made this a fun book. If any of you boys need the perfect gift for Grandma this Mother's Day, I hope you'll keep this book in mind.

The other book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down has been a customer favorite over the last few years. I've had my eyes on it for several years as well, being nothing but a customer at heart. It concerns the clash of cultures between the California health care system and the parents of an epileptic Hmong child. I don't know that I can sum things up without making the family sound simple and stupid but Fadiman does a wonderful job of presenting their case. It's obvious that she has a lot of respect for the family and their culture and is wonderful at presenting everyone's side fairly. The reader can feel the distrust the family has toward western medicine as easily as the frustration of the doctors for patients who don't follow their directions.

The child, Lia Lee, had her first epileptic seizure as a young baby, less than a year old if I remember correctly. The Hmong believe epilepsy to be caused by the soul leaving the body. In order to return the soul, one must sacrifice an animal (trading their soul for the errant one) and perform various rituals. The epileptic is consider special and more in touch with the spirit world than the rest of us. We, most of us anyway, believe it to be caused by a neurological fuck-up and can only be helped by drugs, drugs, drugs. This was the course followed by the medical staff involved in Lia's care and it didn't seem to work too well. Lia's family didn't speak or read English, couldn't follow the dosing directions (three different kinds of pills at various times of day, at varying dosages), were completely confused by the doctor's directions, and suspicious of things to begin with. When the doctors performed blood tests they found that the levels of drugs in Lia's system were below the helpful amount and kept changing drugs and dosages trying to make things easier. The Lees saw this as proof that the doctors didn't know what they were doing. My brothers would refer to this whole situation as a clusterfuck.

I'm still reading this fascinating book and therefore don't know the outcome (although I suspect it's not going to be a pleasant one). I think that the thing I'll take away with me is a question Fadiman asks. She talks to several doctors in the area about their experiences dealing with the Hmong patients they see. One simplifies things, giving less than perfect care so that his patients will have some care at all. Others give the same care they would to middle class, English speaking, cultural-Americans and hope that their directions are followed. Fadiman asks "Which would have been more discriminatory, to deprive Lia of the optimal care that another child would have received, or to fail to tailor her treatment in such a way that her family would be most likely to comply with it?" It's a damn fine question.

Steve has provided my with this week's reading (Nah,nah, Cap'n Ahab) The Terror by Dan Simmons and Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. More to follow...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Treading Water

Every so often I find myself with too many choices. This week has been one of those times. The week starts like any other. I choose a book and begin to read. But something just isn't right. The book isn't moving quickly enough, it's too vague, the author takes his time getting to the point, the dialogue seems forced, there's too much dialogue or not enough. I don't want to read about Eskimos or endangered species or hobgoblins after what happened on Monday or didn't happen on Tuesday. Suddenly, though nothing has changed, the story's fire has dimmed while another book on the shelf starts blazing with light. So I pick up that book; I'll finish the first one, sure I will...just let me read this one first. Suddenly I look around and find that the stack by my bedside is about to topple over with the half-read and the put aside. That's what happened this morning. I took a good look at the bedside stand.

The book that's been there the longest (or at least the oldest one I'll admit to) is The Duke's Children. You'll remember that I started that back before the New Year. It was to be the last book that I read in 2007 but instead was pushed aside by the glittering possibilities of 2008's reading. Steve has been at me non-stop about this fickleness towards one of his favorite authors. Even I had thought my romance with the book was over but this morning I woke up feeling flushed with nostalgia and moved it back to the top of the stack. Maybe this time I'll follow through. Yes, definitely this time.

Next we have two books that I started before going on vacation a few weeks ago, Garcia's Heart by Liam Durcan and Wise Children by Angela Carter. Garcia's Heart is a first novel and was recommended to me by The Mama Chan. She has never steered me wrong and this book is no exception. It is good. Not flashy, just very solidly good. It's about a neurologist who travels to The Hague to sit in on the trial for war crimes of his old mentor, Hernan Garcia. He knew Garcia and his family in Canada, where the Honduran cardiologist had settled down to run a small store and forget his past. The protagonist cannot reconcile this man with the one portrayed at the tribunal and neither can we, the reader. There is also a subplot involving the protagonist and Garcia's daughter, who used to be his lover. This is not nearly as interesting as the main plot and is probably what keeps me from finishing it. I don't care about this romance and my reading gets derailed every time the writer switches over to it. What I want to know is the secret that Garcia's heart holds.

Wise Children is quite the opposite. It is filled with flash and glitter, dancing girls, ponies walking on their hind legs, magicians making beautiful girls disappear, etc. It's a three ring circus in other words. I spent two round trips to work on the subway reading it and here's what I know. The main characters are two elderly, bastard twins who made their living in vaudeville. Eccentricity is everywhere. It is just the kind of story that I love, so what happened? I went on my vacation, leaving it behind and here it still sits. But, yeah, I'm going to read it...soon...

And with that, we arrive at the top strata. You're not feeling ill are you? We do have oxygen handy, should you need it. At the top we have two books, King Dork by Frank Portman and Lost In Translation by Eva Hoffman. I can't say very much yet about King Dork; I've barely cracked it open. It's a teen read that caught my eye because the main character has his life turned around by Catcher In the Rye. I'm bound to have more to say later.

Lost in Translation is a beautifully written memoir of a Polish girl who moves to Canada in her early teens and finds herself untethered by the experience. I'm about half way through reading it and am a bit in awe of both the writing and the girl's experience. I could open the book at random and find something worth quoting. For example:

The yellowed pages I take out of the library draw me into them as into a trance--but only on the condition that they create a convincing mimetic illusion. I feel subtly cheated by Alice in Wonderland, because it is all pretend, a game, and of what interest is that? My reading is all mixed up, and it's not so long after I read Alice that I'm given War and Peace. This is something I should read carefully, my parents convey to me, a classic, something very important--but the usually discouraging invocation of duty has no effect on me this time. I don't notice that War and Peace is a book, something I'm
reading. Surely, this is just life.

What's the problem, then?, you ask. You love it, read it, you say. Aha, here's where you are not me. Although I love it, I'm finding that it reads slowly, because I must stop and think about each passage. I can read the passage above, for example, set the book down and drift away in my own thoughts for a half hour or more. Can one be thrown off by reading something too damned good? I find that I don't want to pick it up because I'll only put it back down. (I never finished Tess of the D'Urbervilles because I loved it so much I couldn't bear for it to end. I still have two pages left after 5 years of reading it.)

There are also those books that are getting very close to joining the pile and may by the end of today. A new one by Steven Millhauser, Dangerous Laughter, because it's very, very shiny and Oblomov, because some book I've read recently kept referencing it. Also drifting towards the stack is a book by Stephen Fry, because I signed it out from the library and it's winking at me suggestively, not to mention whatever new thing that Steve shoves at me.
I guess the only answer is to brew a giant pot of coffee; the Camels are just not going to cut it tonight.